Democrats pound GOP campaign ad
They say it questions patriotism of war critics
The Republican National Committee's advertisement was to begin running in Iowa on Sunday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats demanded a recall of the Republican Party's first ad of the 2004 presidential campaign Sunday, one calling it a "repulsive and outrageous" attack on the patriotism of anyone who opposes President Bush's wartime policies.
Republicans said the $100,000 ad merely reflects a campaign based in part on the president's leadership since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
But Democrats took particular issue with a line in the ad that says "people are attacking the president for attacking the terrorists."
"I'm not attacking the president because he is attacking terrorists," said retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate. "I'm attacking him because he's not attacking terrorists."
Clark said the U.S. invasion of Iraq diverted resources from the pursuit of the al Qaeda terrorist network behind the September 11 attacks.
Clark and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle both called on the Republican National Committee to withdraw the ad.
"It's really a repulsive and outrageous attack, once again, on those who question the direction that much of the administration has taken with regard to Iraq," said Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat.
"I think that there is an implication here, as they've done throughout this debate on Iraq, that if you oppose the president, your patriotism ought to be questioned," Daschle said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The 30-second ad was to begin running Sunday in Iowa, ahead of the Democratic debate in Des Moines set for Monday.
It also will be broadcast early next month in New Hampshire, where all nine of the Democratic presidential candidates are scheduled to debate December 9.
Clark said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the ad violates the president's pledge not to use September 11 for political points.
"I think it really strikes at the heart of a democracy when you accuse your opponents of somehow aiding the enemy, and that's what these ads are implying," he said.
Another Democratic presidential contender, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, called the commercials an attempt to divert attention from economic issues.
"I don't know of anybody who was attacking the president for attacking the terrorists," Lieberman said.
"When it comes to terrorists, we ought to do everything we can to capture and/or kill them. We also ought to do a lot more than this president is doing to protect our homeland security."
But Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he sees nothing wrong with the ad.
"It's portraying the president's leadership that he's displayed since September 11, which I support," McCain said on ABC's "This Week."
Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut called the ad "misleading."
"I think it's a very legitimate statement to be made in the coming presidential election.
"The fact is, the president of the United States is going to run for re-election to a large degree on his record of trying to secure America from the threat of terrorism," he said. "I think that's a very legitimate reason for him to do so."
Lieberman said on CNN's "Late Edition" that the ad was "misleading."
He said it was nothing more than "an attempt by the Republican National Committee to get the public's mind off the joblessness in America, the bad prescription Medicare drug bill ... [and] the energy bill which sells out to lobbyists, as John McCain said of it."
Clark said he saw no problem with the GOP defending Bush's policies, but he said Bush's policies in the war on terrorism were "indefensible."
"That ad's not intended to defend the policy," he said. "It's intended to impugn the patriotism of the people who are attempting to represent the will of the electorate and hold the president accountable."
And Sen. Ted Kennedy, appearing with McCain on "This Week," said the ad was "an attempt to stifle dissent."
"They are basically in this ad saying if you're questioning this policy, you're against the war on terror," the Massachusetts Democrat said. "That's wrong."